Stuff article on the Postcard debacle

By MAGGIE TAIT - NZPA Thursday, 03 July 2008

Postcards highlight law problems - Nats

National deputy leader Bill English says an anti-privatisation postcard campaign has been orchestrated to avoid breaching the Electoral Finance Act but may still do so.

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (Cafca) emailed out a postcard to be sent to MPs saying they did not want education, health or transport privatised. It gave details of how to make bulk orders for hard copies.

Cafca did not put their details on the card and did not think they needed to under Electoral Finance Act requirements.

The law requires advertisements to have an authoriser's name and address and sets limits for how much can be spent on campaign advertising.

Cafca organiser Murray Horton said there was no need to put the organisation's details on the card as the people who sent them to MPs gave their names, addresses and phone numbers.
Mr English said Cafca had a right to express its views but appeared to be carefully designing its campaign to avoid running into legal problems.

"Unfortunately the Electoral Finance Act appears to have driven this kind of campaigning underground. It may breach the Act it may not, some expert will have to take a look at it," he said.

"It does look a bit like a coordinated campaign with the Government's attacks on the same issues – that too may raise some legal issues about whether Labour have some role in being responsible for it."

Mr Horton said Labour nor the Green Party had any involvement. Mr English said that was something that could be tested in the courts.

He said Labour may not have anything to do with the campaign but could find it charged against its campaign spending cap if the postcards were judged to be an advertisement.

"It's interesting that the people who supported the Act as a way of stopping political campaigns are going to find that it's a constraint."

Mr English said people who ordered the postcards, for instance unions, could run into trouble.

"They need to get legal advice because its quite possible if they are handing out the cards they do count as an election advertisement and they may have to count them against Labour's campaign funding. "All of this is ridiculous. We should be free to express any opinion we like in an election year because that's the time when our opinion might matter."

Mr Horton said the card was not aimed at any specific party.

"It doesn't say anywhere on the card `do vote for or don't vote for' . . . it simply says `I'm not going to vote for a party that advocates (privatisation)' . . .

"I can understand why National is feeling sensitive about it right now, but these things have been going out for a couple of weeks."

National's position on opening ACC up to competition was highlighted yesterday.
Mr Horton said the postcard could easily be sent to Labour MPs over public private partnerships, for instance in relation to Auckland roading projects.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union and Maritime Union of New Zealand had ordered postcards.
An Electoral Commission spokesman said it had not received a complaint. However, the postcards would not count as being published under the Electoral Finance Act if they were sent to membership or people the group knew.

An example of when they would be considered published would be if they were handed out on the street.

Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said she could see no problem with the postcards.

"I don't see that there's anything wrong with sending a party a postcard saying `we don't like what you are doing'. That happens to us, that happens to all parties," she said.

The Greens were the subject of an anonymous campaign before the last election.

"I don't see any parallel, the Exclusive Brethren distributed information to the public which was inaccurate about Green Party policy and didn't say who they were.

"This is a postcard to the National Party, not to the public, signed by individuals and not making claims about them but saying `we don't want privatisation'. I see it as totally different."

CAFCA press release re: Anti-privatisation Postcards


We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when told that Bill English had claimed that our unassuming little anti-privatisation postcards are part of a “covert campaign” by Labour and the Greens and apparently on a par with the infamous Exclusive Brethren campaign in the 2005 election.

Sorry to spoil a good story, Bill, but there’s no covert campaign, no conspiracy and no secret. CAFCA produced the cards, offering them to our members and supporters. They are not leaflets or any other kind of “electioneering” material. They constitute a letter sent by an individual whose name and address appears on the card – that person is the sender, with nothing remotely “covert” about it.

They are not aimed against any particular political party, and they’re certainly not from any political party. CAFCA is not a party and is not affiliated to any – we reserve the right to criticise all of them, and do so.

The cards are to be sent to MPs and candidates from any party simply stating that the named sender will not vote for a candidate or party which advocates full or partial privatisation of public assets. They can be as equally sent to Labour MPs and candidates supporting Private Public Partnerships for Auckland’s mega roading project as they can to National MPs and candidates supporting “opening ACC to competition”. And on that latter point, which has obviously led to National’s suspicions of a conspiracy, the timing is purely coincidental – our cards have been in circulation for weeks.

Obviously National is feeling guilty, having been outed about their plans for ACC and so they should be – the last time they “opened it up to competition” it was a shambles (as a self-employed worker, I remember it well). The insurance transnationals are rubbing their hands with glee at the rich pickings to be gained and, for the left overs that the big boys can’t be bothered with, every crook and his dog will be touting snake oil. Been there, done that, why fix it if it ain’t busted? Oh, I forgot, there are mega profits to be made by “fixing” it.

Obviously Bill English cannot conceive of such an initiative coming from outside the tiny self-obsessed world of what the media refer to as “the Beltway” (where is that exactly in the Wellington context? Lambton Quay?). These cards represent ordinary, grassroots Kiwis saying to politicians of all parties:” We will not vote for any going back to the failed policy of privatisation which has caused such enormous damage to the economy and community over the past couple of decades. Hands off our assets”.

The NOW Famous Postcard

Well! It all went off yesterday when National Party decided to announce that CAFCA's anti-privatisation postcard was in breach of the Electoral Finance Act. To refresh your memories this is what the postcard was all about:

Privatisation is a major issue in this election. Though National promises no asset sales in its first term in office, it is already promising to privatise ACC by introducing commercial competition, even though research shows that publicly owned ACC is one of the cheapest such schemes, with one of the best range of benefits, in the world. Labour, while deserving credit for undoing some of the disastrous privatisations of the past, is toying with "Public-Private Partnerships" in the proposed huge Waterview roading development in Auckland.What do the other parties and candidates intend?

CAFCA has created postcards that supporters and members can send to any MP (post free) or to any election candidate to state your opposition to privatisation in all its forms. The wording of the cards is below. These are for you or friends to sign and post; the card will be you stating your views on this important issue to the people (from any political party) who want to be your political representatives. If you don't like the wording of the cards and oppose privatisation, we urge you to write in your own words to your MPs and would-be representatives.
If you would like to have some postcards, email or write to us at the address below. We ask for a koha to help cover costs. If you want large numbers, we will let you know what the costs will be.

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA)
PO Box 2258
Aotearoa/New Zealand

If you want to read more about the perils of privatisation, see some of the presentations from the Privatisation by Stealth conference we ran in March, and other material on this web site.

The postcards state:

Dear ....................,

I don’t want my school run by a private equity corporation.
I don’t want my airport owned by a foreign pension fund.
I don’t want my hospital managed by an insurance company.
I don’t want my port or railways owned by a transnational corporation.
I don’t want my roads operated by an investment bank.
I believe that continued full public New Zealand ownership and control of New Zealand public assets and infrastructure is extremely important.
I will not be voting for any candidate or party who supports full or partial privatisation of our public assets and infrastructure.

Signature: ................................................................................
Name: ............................................................................................ Address:.........................................................................................